“The Runner” by Tina Donvito
Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, Tina Donvito chases after her free-spirited son.
He takes off, devil-may-care grin on his face as he looks back at me. He’s not even watching where he’s going. Every time I go out with my two-year-old son, Jack, I have to make sure I’m wearing shoes I can run in and carrying a bag that won’t fall off my shoulders. All so I can sprint after him. It’s a game of catch-me-if-you-can.
I thought that day would be different. Swim class had been the bane of my existence since we started: the wet suit you can’t get off, praying Jack doesn’t poop in the pool. But it was his last lesson, and the session had gone well. He swam with the instructor alone as I looked on from the edge of the pool. I felt content watching him, the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to come back ever again—or least for the summer—buoying me up.
We headed into the locker room. The wet suit was peeled off for the last time. Jack cooperated without me even having to bribe him with a snack bar.
Then it happened. Jack crawled under the changing room door. I scooped up my stuff: towels, wet clothes in a plastic bag, duffel. Swim class necessitated the breaking of the only-carry-what-I-can-wear-on-my-back rule, and I was about to pay for it. I rushed out to see Jack waiting for me to chase him.
We locked eyes. Then he turned and ran.
Jack burst through the swinging doors that led outside to the pool. I started to run after him, pushing the doors forward and rushing through without checking if anyone was behind me.
I turned to see a boy a few years older than Jack holding his head and nose, sobbing. The door had swung back and whacked him in the face. A woman who appeared to be his grandmother embraced him. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” I said, temporarily forgetting about my own son. In the back of my mind I thought that if I wasn’t there to chase him, Jack wouldn’t run. I expected him to be waiting for me, and I didn’t feel I could rush away when I had just hurt another child in my haste. The woman assured me her grandson was OK, and I turned to go find Jack.
When I emerged, I saw Jack running down the path toward the parking lot. Parents from the next class were looking around, presumably wondering where on earth this poor child’s mother was. One dad decided to take action, ran up to Jack and grabbed him. “Jack!” I yelled as all eyes turned on me. I took off, rushing to grab our remaining towel from a lounge chair and tripping on my flip flop (another rule I had broken: wearing shoes I can’t run in). I felt the other moms looking at me—in pity or in judgment, I couldn’t tell.
When I got to Jack I thanked the dad and latched onto Jack’s wrist. “Don’t you ever run away from me,” I chided. He just smiled. When we got to the car, all the wet stuff in my other hand dropped to the ground. I hadn’t had a chance to get my keys out, and they were lost in my bag. I had to let go of Jack’s wrist, just for a second, in order to reach them.
He took off again. He was faster than me in my flip flops, turning from one direction to the other. I was screaming at him now, and I was sure the other parents at the pool could hear. As Jack ran onto a grassy area on the other side of the lot, I lunged for him and tackled him to the ground.
Now he was angry. I carried him like a football under my arm, his limbs flailing, back to the car. But he wouldn’t get in. He grabbed onto the roof of the car, preventing me from closing the door.
Eventually I managed to push his clawing hands inside and shut the door. I walked to the driver’s side and got in, turning on the air to cool off the interior. Jack wasn’t in his car seat, so we couldn’t go anywhere yet. I put my face in my hands and bawled, while my free-spirited son laughed from the backseat.
TINA DONVITO’s writing has been published online in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Parents and others. She is regular contributor to FitPregnancy.com and Reader’s Digest online. Her work was selected by author Elizabeth Gilbert for inclusion in the anthology Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. She lives with her husband and three-year-old son in New Jersey. Find her on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her blog at foggymommy.com.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
T—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Apr 11, 2017